Posted on November 25, 2015 in Countdown

Click here to subscribe to Countdown, AAI's weekly take on news from Washington, around the country, and abroad.


You Got the Wrong Guy

The post-Paris climate of fear has some odd targets in its cross hairs. Most of the action centers around the call by Republican leaders to end the (very slow) trickle of Syrian refugees into the U.S. because, to paraphrase, “ISIL agents are definitely infiltrating the refugee system.” By now many leaders and organizations have done an incredible job dismantling that notion on both practical and moral grounds. Immune to the facts, the House of Representatives passed the SAFE Act which, if passed by the Senate, makes the vetting process so convoluted and impossible that it will surely end the program altogether. And it wasn’t just a Republican affair, 47 Democrats gave their stamp of approval to this effort to turn away victims of ISIL. Protecting the homeland is high stakes, but resettling refugees is not what perpetuates the real danger.


Spy on the Loose

With all the talk about domestic threats to our national security it is a particularly odd time for President Obama to release Jonathan Pollard from prison, where he has been since being caught trading U.S. intelligence secrets to Israel and convicted of espionage in 1987. His release was promised back in July when it was widely viewed as part of Obama’s apology to Israel for going against Netanyahu’s wish to abandon the Iran nuclear deal. During his tenure as a spy with top secret security clearance, Pollard traded suitcases worth of secrets a day to a foreign country. It was what some officials call the most egregious act of espionage in our history. The conditions of his release require Pollard – who gained Israeli citizenship while in jail –to stay in the United States for five years to be monitored. Let’s just hope they remembered to revoke his top secret clearance.


Everybody Needs Somebody to Blame

Government agencies looking to use secret surveillance to do their job are really good at blaming civil liberties for making their task more difficult. But the push for more surveillance by some counterterrorism professionals dangerously encourages people around the world to give up their civil rights and civil liberties for a false sense of security. The narrative supports giving more tools – like backdoor access, eliminating data encryption services, and continuing the bulk collection of data – to intelligence agencies. But the attacks on Paris don’t support this narrative. First, terrorists have been using encryption since the 1990s; second, the use of encryption hasn’t increased since Snowden’s revelations; third, the Paris terrorists might have used encryption, but they were definitely using non-encrypted platforms to coordinate their attacks as well; fourth, mass surveillance is ineffective and a misuse of resources; fifth, mass surveillance undermines the freedom of thought and association that democracy depends on; we could keep going…


Snyder Shuts It Down & Gets Shut Down

Just a month ago we were celebrating Michigan Governor Rick Snyder as a beacon of leadership and light on how states can and should step up to resettle Syrian refugees into the fabric of American society. We were unfortunately reminded this week of just how fickle political figures can be because when push came to shove, Governor Snyder was the first of 36 Governors who said they would no longer resettle Syrian refugees in their state. His disappointing reversal was disturbingly supported by the Michigan Commission on Middle Eastern American Affairs, a 15-member body set up to advocate for the contributions and concerns of Michigan’s sizeable Arab American community. Others like Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan have stepped up to stand against the Governor’s announcement – an announcement that he lacks the legal standing to enforce.


The Vaccum That Got Filled Overnight

Immediately after Paris, the march to war in Syria picked up speed and found a few leaders it had been lacking. French President Francois Hollande declared without hesitation “we are at war” and launched three rounds of airstrikes against ISIL targets in Raqqa. Not surprisingly, the targets France hit in Syria were U.S.-identified targets. France’s decisive and speedy attacks draw a sharp contrast to the U.S. strategy that has been restrained, perhaps even absent, or at least not particularly well messaged to us lay people. Hollande is now on a global tour to rally the U.S. led coalition against ISIL and add a few new countries to the effort. Hollande visited the United Kingdom, the U.S., and is headed to Russia to see if anyone can reason with Putin. And we hope Hollande can do just that because someone needs to do something to deescalate the fallout after Turkey – a coalition partner - dramatically shot down a Russian jet just yesterday morning.